I have always believed that no league is better at determining a true champion than the National Basketball Association. With over half of all NBA teams qualifying for the four best of seven rounds in their playoff system, it is pretty hard to deny that the team emerging from the “Second Season” is the best in the league. The problem is, while watching the potential Finals matchup between Los Lakers and El Heat (nice forced racial sensitivity Stern), I came to the sad realization that fewer and fewer teams have a legitimate shot of earning the O’Brien Trophy. The NBA is slowly but surely devolving into Major League Baseball.
I have commented before that I never believed the Association would show a bias towards big market teams despite their better money-making potential. That was until the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Lost Champions. Now, almost ten years later, on the heels of their latest back-to-back championships, the Lakers have now won 16 out of all 64 NBA titles. That’s one out of every four! Their baseball counterpart, the New York Yankees, have won 27 of 106 World Series – just over 25%.
But wait, the NBA is smart enough to impose a salary cap to improve competitive balance and level the playing court between large and small market teams. That worked great for a while. I grew up rooting for Grant Hill in Detroit and Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando. It was great until players began colluding to take less money to join championship-caliber teams. Exhibit A: The Miami Heat. The Heat have three maximum salary players in a system designed for each franchise to sign a maximum of two. Not only have some of the NBA’s brightest stars taken less money to join the squad, last week Mike Bibby just flat out opted out of his contract with the Wizards, giving up $6.2 Million in salary, to come along for the ride.
How did this begin, and more importantly, when will this be fixed? David Stern has historically been one of the best commissioners in all of sports, but he walks a dangerous bottom line by letting the inmates run the asylum. The NFL and the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament have proven time and time again that parody drives interest, and thus, revenue. I would encourage you to let your money talk to the NBA and MLB unless you are among those who are looking forward to sickeningly predictable championship series’ between the Lakers/Heat and Phillies/Yankees.